What the Raid Shows about the Police States to Come
The week of demonstrations against the G20 summit in Hamburg got off to a telling start on Sunday. A lengthy court battleculminated with the highest court in Germany upholding the right of the anticapitalist camp to set up in Hamburg. Yet when they attempted to do so, the police blocked access to the park, directly violating the court ruling, then carried out a brutal raid in which several hundred riot police surrounded and brutalized campers and confiscated their belongings. The following firsthand account illustrates the world that the G20 summit in Hamburg represents—a world in which “peaceful protest” and court proceedings exist only to distract the naïve, while the whims of security forces are the law of the land. No wonder people are preparing to resist the G20.
Video footage showing the tremendous numbers of police involved in the raid.
What Happened at Enterwerder Park
The passive demonstration that nonprofit groups organized for Sunday was explicitly not directed at the G20 rulers but only at their policies—as if mere sign-holding could possibly have any influence on state policy. The real demonstrations are scheduled to take place later this week during the summit itself.
The original group that had formed to organize a campsite for protesters during the G20 summit had split along similar lines, with the group that was afraid of anything that smacked of “violence” or opposition to capitalism accepting a purely symbolicsite far away from central Hamburg, while the other group continued to push for a place in Hamburg proper. The latter group had apparently won, with Germany’s highest court ruling in their favor.
We arrive at Enterwerder Park in late afternoon. Hundreds of hopeful campers are gathered at the gates of the park, kept out by lines of police in heavy riot gear.
The police have filled the area with armored vans, blocking the roads, stopping and immobilizing vehicles belonging to prospective campers and anyone else they consider suspicious. The campers have set up a temporary gathering at the gates, serving delicious goulash to whoever wants it and conferring about what to do. There is considerable outrage about the police defying the orders that the court gave to let us into the park, but no one has any particular idea what to do. Despite police rhetoric about “violence” and “rioters,” none of us came prepared for a confrontation.
There’s no point in trying to discuss it with the officers themselves. Their expressions are blank: their vacant eyes look through us as if we are not there at all. Recruiting advertisements on the armored vans depict hip young Germans with androgynous haircuts, their fresh faces strangely cruel and disinterested. I catch my comrades’ attention: “BEFORE,” I suggest, pointing to the fresh faces on the posters; “AFTER,” I conclude, pointing to a grizzled senior officer whose haunted visage illustrates the impact of a lifetime of obeying orders.
The police keep clamping down, establishing new control points along the road to the gate. They set up blockades multiple lines deep to prevent anyone from carrying more food to the aspiring campers at the gate—apparently someone was throwing apples over their heads so the campers wouldn’t go hungry. Fucking terrorists!
One local confides to me that although police will be present this week from all over Germany, these are the local Hamburg police. She knows them personally from attending demonstrations here—one of them broke her jaw, then made a point of beating her again at a subsequent demonstration.
We fan out into the area to look for other delivery routes to the assembly around the gate. In fact, there are several ways the police haven’t noticed. Rather than concentrating on the places they are blocking or sitting around apathetically, we should be looking for the margins, the edges beyond their awareness. They can never control everything completely.
However, when we finally return to the front of the park, the police have stood down. The officers who are standing to the side of the gates in small groups look somewhat sheepish as campers walk joyously past them. Has the chief of police relented, agreeing to abide by the court decision after all? We applaud as one of the trucks loaded with supplies passes through the gate. The drivers had been waiting for several hours, surrounded by lines of riot police.
Cheerful campers who have already set up large tents pick them up together, a person at each pole, so the tents themselves stroll across the threshold of the gate and into the park. This is the genial, animated world we hope to build.
Campers begin to set up in the park.
Walking into the park, we pass dozens more armored vans and several more full squadrons of riot police in formation. It is beginning to dawn on us just how many of them are concentrated here. Groups of them surround the field in the park that will serve as our campsite. Nonetheless, the mood is festive as people set up the area. The practical-minded German protesters have prepared quite a bit of construction material. We eat and talk and compare notes together, speculating about what the week will bring.
As night begins to fall, groups of police withdraw from the field to the single road leading to the gate through which we entered. Are they leaving, finally? Will the campers finally be able to relax and get a little rest?
No—they’re not leaving. They’re massing at the end of the field, on the path leading to the gate.
Some of us go over to take a look. There are hundreds of them now, identical in their armor, line after line after line. Guns and batons and pepper spray hang at their sides. Each is dressed head to toe in thousands of euros worth of state-of-the-art protective gear, paid for by dutiful taxpayers who are not particularly curious about what Deutschland is doing with all their hard-earned income. The officers in the back have already put on their helmets.
They pull an armored van with a public address system on it to the front of their lines. People with medical conditions or histories of personal trauma are panicking as they try to figure out how to leave the park. The rest of us move towards the front. No one is eager to get arrested so early in the week, but we know that if we show any fear now, the police will be emboldened to bully and attack demonstrators all week long. We are not choosing whether to defend a campsite—we’re choosing whether to defend our capacity to demonstrate at all. If we don’t accept the gauntlet they’re throwing down, we will give away our freedom.
An announcement comes screeching through the speakers atop the police van: a man with a high-pitched, nasal voice is threatening us. People whistle and shout back at him. A camper makes a counter-announcement from the truck with the sound system in it and people cheer.
The police make a second announcement. The tension is thick in the darkening gloom: are we all going to jail? To the hospital? Then they make a third announcement, and the stormtroopers come marching in. We hear the sickening thud of their boots treading the ground in unison.
We mass around the sound truck and the tents, forming lines of our own. The police march around us, encircling us, and then they close in. They reach the sound truck, physically attacking the people around it. The chaos is disorienting—the shouting, the sound of people being beaten and pepper sprayed around us.
There is a person in the back of the sound truck where the sound system is. One officer sprays him full in the face with pepper spray, then the police grab him, pull him out of the truck, and throw him to the ground. Several officers crowd around him, kicking him over and over with their heavy boots. They kick him in the ribs, in the knees, in the neck, in the head. They do this calmly, robotically, and then they leave him on the ground, blinded, gasping, and contorted in pain.
They do not make any move to arrest him. Like the rest of the campers, he has not committed any crime.
Medics rush those of the injured who have managed to escape out of the police cordon. Ambulances pull up, anticipating serious or permanent injuries. Police wave around cameras on poles equipped with blinding searchlights. “Why are you filming?” shouts one camper.
“We’re not filming,” answers the officer flourishing the camera.
An eternity and a half hour later, the police march back in formation, half a dozen tents in their possession. All this to terrorize demonstrators, to show that brute force alone is all that counts in Hamburg.
Video footage showing the tremendous numbers of police involved in the raid.
Welcome to Hell, Indeed
“There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” – George Orwell, 1984
The police seek to realize a vision of hell on earth. In the cosmology they represent, all humanity is suspect, guilty of potential insubordination, and only the constant threat of violence can keep us in line. Free will is a liability in a world in which the only conceivable purpose is to follow orders in return for a paycheck, so that everyone can be controlled and punished. Police are the murderers of freedom.
The worst thing about police is that they seek to strip us of the ability to imagine anything other than the reality they represent and impose. That is why it is worth it to them to spend millions of euros on an operation to seize a handful of tents. When they attack us—when they beat us with fists or batons, when they pepper-spray us, tear-gas us, or Taser us, when they shoot at us with concussion grenades, rubber bullets, marker rounds, or live ammunition—the real target of their assault is not our bodies, but our faith in humanity.
They seek to bludgeon out of us any hope that human beings could relate on equal terms, leaving only the ugly equation of authority, obedience, and violence. They represent the very worst our species is capable of—pure mercenary indifference—and they hope to make this exception into the norm.
This is not surprising. Their lies about “human nature” offer the only narrative that could possibly excuse their conduct. For our part, we know that human nature, if there is such a thing, is broad enough to include many possibilities, many different ways of being and relating.
The masters of these police—the leaders of the G20, who will be meeting in Hamburg this week—represent a political class that no longer has any idea how to respond to the problems of our time except with greater and greater exertions of coercive force. There is no longer any pretense that we are moving towards a free and beautiful future, but rather a climate-change catastrophe torn by civil wars, divided between dictatorships and increasingly flimsy pretenses of democracy. This is why the G20 leaders are increasingly reliant on the police forces, to the extent of letting them dictate state policy in defiance of court orders. Without the representatives of brute force on their side, the ruling class is sunk, and they know it.
In this sense, the police state has already arrived.
When Donald Trump explicitly endorses violence against journalists and other Republican politicians carry it out, it is clear enough that the gloves have come off. In nations that still pride themselves on being democratic, such politicians—and their apologists, some of whom pose as their adversaries—will attempt to convince protesters that the only way to be “democratic” themselves is to obey the laws and passively accept whatever impositions the police make, while the authorities themselves hasten towards the rule of pure force. If they succeed in convincing us to be passive, the future will assuredly be unmitigated tyranny.
Make no mistake: if there are clashes in Hamburg this week, if anyone sees fit to defend herself or himself from the tens of thousands of police officers that have assembled here to brutalize all who will not slavishly consent to their rule, the fault lies with the so-called forces of order. They started it with their unprovoked attack on the camp at Enterwerder Park, they started it by treating Hamburg as a training ground to practice mass police brutality, they started it by training and assembling all these thugs in the first place.
The demonstrators against the G20 are fighting for their lives. They are fighting for all of our lives, for the world that we all share together—and they are fighting out of the kindness of their hearts. On the other side of the lines, we see the police abdicating responsibility for their actions in return for thirty pieces of silver. Anything anyone can do to resist them, to disrupt their strategies for world domination and carve out spaces of freedom, is loyalty to what is best in humanity.
Yet the transformations we seek will not be won simply in symmetrical clashes with police and fascists. Above all, we have to make it possible to believe in what is freest and most beautiful in our species, even as the authorities strive to conceal it. We have to make our dreams contagious, so that one day the police will find themselves surrounded and isolated, the last ones who still subscribe to their hideous program. We have to make spaces of joy and healing in which they, too, might one day shed their shameful skins and become something beautiful and free.
Campers wait outside the police blockade; the raid involving nearly a thousand riot police.
Postscript: A Note on Strategy
The park was a trap. The police did not let us in because the court had ruled that we had a right to be there, but only so that they could surround, contain, and brutalize us.
Perhaps we should have stayed outside the police lines. When a huge number of police are available to the state, as during this G20 summit, it doesn’t pay to let them surround us. It’s better to remain at the margins of their zones of control, always forcing them to expand further, spreading their resources thinner and creating situations in which they can’t help but antagonize the general population.
At the edge of their range of control, our smaller numbers are not a problem—on the contrary, they can make it harder to track us, harder to predict what we will do next. When the authorities have to keep controlling ever wider areas, their bulk and force become liabilities, burdening them and provoking the public, drawing additional demographics and variables into the conflict.
This strategy of spreading out their area of concentration worked during the 2009 G20 summit in Pittsburgh, when protesters set out to cross the city in the opposite direction from the walls of riot police surrounding the meetings.
When the police realized what was going on and mobilized, attempting to establish control throughout large swathes of the city, they ended up turning the people of Pittsburgh against them, precipitating a series of new clashes in which business districts were demolished, the police lost legitimacy in the public eye, and many who had previously been outside the clashes were politicized.
If, rather than filing into the camp, we had remained at the edges, we might have accomplished some of the same things. At the least, we might have been able to draw the focus of the police away from assaulting the hapless campers. There was only a single entry point into the park for all those riot vans—had we blocked it, they surely would have been forced to shift their attention from the camp to the city around them, a hostile territory that wants no part of their summit and experiences them as an occupying force.
Perhaps these reflections can be of use over the coming days.
More footage from the raid.
As a trans woman in punk, I try to find beauty in a faux-inclusive scene that’s never perfect – and occasionally awful
Photograph: Garrett Walters/courtesy of Alyssa Kai
If there is one ethos of punk, and especially DIY (Do It Yourself) punk, it is that the punk world is for everybody: anyone can sing, anyone can play, anyone can listen, anyone can participate.
But in reality, men run the scene, men are the scene, and men always have been and probably always will be at the center of the scene. As a trans woman, sometimes I just go through the motions: I do my work, I perform my best, I seek out my moments of joy.
But it’s never perfect, and it’s occasionally awful: without warning, in the audience or on a stage, I’ll hear someone say, “This song is about feminism, which means: How hard it is to have a vagina in this world!” or “I saw Ralph in a dress the other day, that was pretty funny” or “That last songwriter, he was pretty cool”. And I’m suddenly rocking out here on the outside, but only listening in on the thing I love. And even if I don’t walk out, I’m still gone, excluded from the supposedly ultra-inclusive community I’m trying to build.
If you want – and most people do want – you can retell the early history of punk exclusively by referencing white men: Johnny Rotten in London, Joey Ramone in New York, Henry Rollins in Los Angeles, and so on and so forth. When you look between the gaps, of course you find women and people of color everywhere: Death and Algebra Mothers in Detroit,X-Ray Spex and Genesis Breyer P-orrige in the UK, Bad Brains andJayne County around the US, and of course Ron Reyes, Dez Cadena and ROBO of the all-too-often whitewashed Black Flag. But that’s exactly the problem: we find these important, influential, wonderful groups in the gaps. They’re marginalia in the “real history” while the boy-bands get to be “real punk”. My peers can write ’zines, make comics, compose essays, but they’re somehow not punk enough.
Maybe that’s because certain punk men built their scene on images of violence against the established order and, while the genre hasn’t yet torn down the state apparatus, it has enacted that state’s violence on the lower class, nonwhite, disabled and non-men folks in the scene. No matter how many dialogues we stage on anti-oppression, safer spaces, radical inclusivity and mutual aid, men in punk can still stand in front of a crowd and scream about almost anything they want or feel – just so long as they avoid a given list of anti-oppressive no-no words. Their power has put on a more pleasant face, but some men remain a fundamentally violent presence that I must witness if I want to be a part of the beauty of the scene.
I love the punk music that’s coming out now – I even love the people making it. But I don’t trust them or their work. When you’re a trans woman, you learn to keep your expectations low and your hopes at arm’s length.
My first tour was me and eight men for two weeks, playing community spaces, rocking basements, selling weird merch, the whole thing. And I was astounded at how good I felt around those men: we didn’t talk about my gender, they didn’t call me “he” and I somehow managed to feel “normal”. I called their silence about me respect, and called my own silence about them the price of belonging. I fell asleep on strangers’ couches and hoped I’d be safe; I sat through hours of aggressively male banter; I told the breathless boys who moments before had been barreling into me, knocking over my mic, and cutting open my lip, “Thank you, thank you for coming, great to have you here.
And yet there are joys: I’ve joined more bands, kept queer punks close, and I’m closer and closer to touring full time. When I come home, the DIY scene in Worcester, Massachusetts, takes excellent care of me, and I play for them and they play for me and we call that a life. For the first time in my life, I can list people like me whom I admire, and whom I can try to emulate in my work: Sybil Lamb, Imogen Binnie, Noel’le Longhaul,Rosanonymous, the departed Samantha Jane Dorsett.
DIY punk – with its self-released music, non-corporate labels, cheap all-age shows in basements – embraces those things not as means toward corporate success, but as intrinsically worthwhile tools to build authentic rebellion and powerful community.
Still, I watch my peers in DIY stage communion with audiences who pay for a touch of our emotional lives, our pay-what-you-can consumer ethics enabled by the economic stability of middle-class musicians and fans; our authenticity built on false premises of what it means to be “true” to punk in a messed-up, still-exclusionary scene made up of mostly white, abled middle-class men who make and buy most of the music.
However anti-establishment in spirit, punk has always been tied to money: success means getting signed, getting famous, getting a world tour. Even if rebellious energy or violent imagery remains in the music, economically speaking, punk is just another sales category to the male-dominated establishment.
Meanwhile, punks like me, and those unlike me – punks of color, working class punks, disabled punks – struggle to get what most men in our scene are all-but automatically granted: not just power, but meaning. They get to be their whole, authentic selves on stage and off, they get to decide what’s punk, they get to “let” the rest of us in. To break into their scene doesn’t feel like a success; rather, it feels like being give permission to play along when I shouldn’t have needed to ask. Not in punk – and not anywhere.
Photograph: Courtesy of Alyssa Kai
Photograph: Courtesy of Alyssa Kaisource
In this 2013 interview, Agustín Guillamón, the author of Ready for Revolution: The CNT Defense Committees in Barcelona, 1933-1938, discusses the Spanish Revolution, the reasons why he dedicated his life to this subject, its historiography and its lessons.
Interview with Agustín Guillamón, Historian of the Proletarian Revolution of 1936
Txema Bofill (for Catalunya: Òrgan d’expressió de la CGT de Catalunya): Tell us about how and why you became politically aware?
Agustín Guillamón: My paternal grandfather was the youngest in a family with eleven children, born in the “Ravine of Hunger”, as its inhabitants called the mountains of the region of Alt Millars, between Castellón and Teruel. During the First World War they moved to Barcelona. The terrible shortage of both work and housing there caused them to leave Poblenou for the safe refuge (from the police or hunger) of the house of his sister, in Olesa. My grandfather, along with several of his brothers, was a member of a Confederal Defense Committee. He had a CNT membership card dated from April 1931. He went to work in the chemical industry. When the fascists entered Terrassa, one of my grandfather’s brothers, Pascual, who was wounded in battle on July 19 in Barcelona, disappeared, apparently shot by the Phalangists. My grandfather Eliseo went into exile, first in a concentration camp in Algeria and then later in a labor battalion working on the fortifications of the Atlantic Wall, from which he would escape in order to take refuge in the mountains, barely surviving in the forest as a charcoal burner. He took part in the Maquis of The Gers, not so much out of his own political inclinations, but because it was the only way he could survive. He would participate in the liberation of the town of Mirande, where he lived until his death in 1970.
Meanwhile, in Barcelona, now occupied by the fascists, my grandmother had to somehow get by with five young children. They were very hungry and very afraid. I will recount a couple of anecdotes from those hard times. One day, the padrina de guerra [a “military godmother” whose job was to support the morale of the soldier at the front with encouraging letters, “care packages”, etc.—Translator’s note] of her brother Vicente, who had been forcibly conscripted by the nationalists and was killed by a stray bullet on the Madrid front a few days before the end of the war, arrived at her house, which had been searched several times by the fascist police. The neighbors did not know what was happening: constant police investigations and now all the pomp of a Phalangist leader who came to offer condolences on Amistat Street. And another incident: the forced baptism of my aunts by some Phalangist women. They renamed my aunt Natura, Ana, but she always wanted to be called Nita. My aunt Libertad was renamed Cruz, but everyone called her Nati, so that five years later, when she wanted to get married, the church would not let her, because her birth names Cruz/Libertad did not coincide. The church finally yielded since the only alternative was for the couple to live “in sin”.
The absence of my grandfather, in a bleak, unjust and hostile world, led them to ask many questions, which received no other response than that he was guilty of having lost a war, before I was even born.
Who has exercised the greatest influence on you?
My parents, and their perseverance in the pursuit of education, freedom and justice, goals that they managed to reach by way of reading, hard work and culture; and their demanding ethical standards, which intransigently rejected alcohol, gambling and all other vices, as the traps of capital and the employers. The example of their lives, during my innocent and happy childhood in a world of fascist values, will always be the beacon that illuminates my horizon.
What books have influenced you?
In History: the work of the medievalist Georges Duby, Broué, Brinton, Bolloten, Bernecker, Carr, Peirats, Volin, Michelet, Soboul, Mathiez and Abel Paz. In Theory: Darwin, Canfora, Marx, Kropotkin, Rocker, Munis, Dauvé and Cahiers Spartacus. In Literature: Quevado, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Troyes and the medieval literature published by Siruela, Gide, Malaquais, Yourcenar and Diderot, not to forget the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, The Adventures of Ulysses by Lamb and The Nature of Human Brain Work by Joseph Dietzgen.
What groups or political organizations have you been a member of or participated in?
During the early seventies I was a member of Plataformes. I was in contact with groups like the ICC and FOR, without becoming actively involved. I became interested in the Italian communist left, councilism and workers autonomy. And I have always studied and tried to acquire an in-depth understanding of the causes of the defeat of the revolutionaries during the Civil War.
What led you to study the Civil War?
My family history. The oppressive reality of Francoism, a dictatorship without any other justification than its victorious war against its own people, and especially against the working class. I thought it was necessary to answer these two questions: Why was the war lost? Why was the revolution defeated?
Why have you devoted yourself to history?
To gain, to disseminate and to foster a more profound knowledge of revolutionary history, to refute the falsehoods and distortions designed or spread by the “sacred” bourgeois history. To reveal the real history of the class struggle, written from the point of view of the revolutionary proletariat, is already itself a struggle for history, for revolutionary history. A struggle that forms part of the class struggle, like any wildcat strike, factory occupation, revolutionary insurrection, The Conquest of Bread or Capital. The working class, in order to appropriate its own history, must fight against social democratic, neo-Stalinist, Catalanist, liberal and neo-Francoist views. The proletarian struggle to understand its own history is one struggle, among so many others, in the ongoing class war. It is not purely theoretical, or abstract or banal, because it forms part of class consciousness itself, and is defined as the theoretical understanding of the historical experiences of the international proletariat, and it is undeniable that Spain must understand, assimilate and appropriate the experiences of the anarchosyndicalist movement of the 1930s.
What lessons can be drawn from the Civil War?
The capitalist state, both its fascist as well as its democratic versions, must be destroyed. The proletariat cannot conclude any kind of alliance with the republican (or democratic) bourgeoisie in order to defeat the fascist bourgeoisie, because such an agreement already presupposes the defeat of the revolutionary alternative, and the renunciation of the revolutionary program of the proletariat (and of its methods of struggle), for the purpose of adopting an anti-fascist unity program with the democratic bourgeoisie, in the name of winning the war against fascism.
What were the functions of the Defense Committees? How did they relinquish power? What happened to the Defense Committees after the counterrevolution of May 1937?
It would take me much too long to respond to these questions. These questions are addressed in my book, The CNT Defense Committees in Barcelona. Their principal limitation was their inability to organize and carry out coordination outside the confederal apparatus. The superior committees politically and organizationally suffocated the revolutionary committees, which had become their worst enemies and the most serious obstacle to their long-sought necessary integration into the apparatus of the bourgeois state, with the final goal of their institutionalization.
What kind of relations and what kinds of differences existed between the Defense Committees and the anarchist affinity and action groups?
The Defense Committees could be defined as the revolution’s underground army, deeply devoted to serious tasks related to information, armaments, training, strategy and preparation for the workers insurrection. They were institutionally subordinate parts of the CNT, because they were financed by the trade unions and it was the members of the latter that filled their ranks.
The affinity groups constituted the organizational structure of the FAI. They were basically groups of friends and/or militants, united by ideological affinity, who assumed common tasks, positions and tactics. The Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) was merely a common platform, or coordinating center, for affinity groups, which often disagreed with the Peninsular or Regional Committees.
The action groups, during the era of pistolerismo (1917-1923), were formed as groups for the self-defense of the trade unionists and of the organization, because their only purpose, faced with the brutal terrorism of the state, and the militarization and financing of the gunmen of the Free Trade Union by the Catalan employers association, was to ensure the mere survival of the CNT militants, in order to prevent the disappearance of the CNT as a result of the assassination of its members and the resulting massive resignations of trade unionists.
Was there a revolution in 1936? Did the CNT’s pact with the Generalitat put an end to the possibility of revolution?
In July 1936, in Barcelona, there was a revolutionary situation. For the first time in history, however, a victorious insurrection of the revolutionary workers did not seize power, it left the apparatus of the bourgeois state intact. The CNT-FAI, which was the dominant working class organization in Barcelona and Catalonia, did not possess an adequate revolutionary theory and opted for collaboration with the other anti-fascist organizations and chose to participate in the governmental tasks of the autonomous government of the Generalitat. Its only goal was to win the war against fascism. Its leaders renounced the revolution at the very moment when the revolutionary neighborhood committees (in Barcelona) and local revolutionary committees (throughout Catalonia), the factory committees, the committees of the barricades, the supply committees and committees of all kinds, were expropriating the property of the bourgeoisie, the Church and the state, in the absence of any visible forces of public order (which were all biding their time, waiting for the counterrevolution).
Why were the barricades of July 1936 successful while those of May 1937, raised against the Stalinists, were not?
The difference between the insurrections of July 1936 and May 1937 resides in the fact that, in July, the revolutionaries were unarmed, but possessed a precise political goal—the defeat of the military uprising and of fascism—whereas in May, with arms and organization superior to what they possessed in July, they were politically disarmed. The working class masses would begin an insurrection against Stalinism and the bourgeois government of the Generalitat, with overwhelming popular support and with their organizations, and without their leaders, but they would prove to be incapable of pursuing the fight to the end without their organizations and against their own leaders. The barricades raised in July of 1936 were still standing months later, while those built in May of 1937 would disappear immediately, except for a few that the PSUC would allow to remain as a testimonial to its power and to its victory.
What was the cause of May 1937?
May 1937 was undoubtedly the consequence of the growing discontent with rising prices, food shortages, the internal struggles underway in the enterprises for the socialization of the economy and workers control, the escalation of the Generalitat’s efforts to disarm the rearguard and to obtain control over the forces of public order, etc., etc., and was above all the result of the necessary armed defeat of the proletariat, which required that the counterrevolution must finally put an end to the revolutionary threat to the bourgeois and republican institutions.
Who are the persons who are most responsible for distorting and falsifying the history of the Civil War?
It is not so important who distorted it, as the fact that it was distorted. Those who do the distorting are the same ones as always: neo-Stalinists, social democrats, liberals, Catalanists and neo-Francoists, that is, the sacred history of the bourgeoisie.
Can you provide us with an example of such distortion?
For instance, the confrontation between the CNT and the PSUC. This was a political conflict, in the Greek sense of the term, that is, a struggle between two different strategies with regard to the provisioning of the Barcelonian “polis”: that of the neighborhood committees, which placed the highest priority on the egalitarian, efficient and adequate distribution of bread and staple foods; and that of the PSUC, which sought to reinforce the power of the government of the Generalitat regardless of any other considerations. And this strategy of the PSUC required, above all else, the liquidation of the neighborhood committees and the imposition of the free market. The free market meant completely unrestricted prices, and favored the enrichment of the small shopkeepers, at the cost of the hunger of the population. The ideological and theoretical justification of the PSUC was that the free market, and unrestricted prices, favored the distribution on the market of products that would otherwise be hoarded. What actually took place was that the free market fostered the hoarding of food and speculation, resulting in higher prices. The theoretical free market would rapidly become a black market, and hunger soon spread among the workers.
The official prices of staple foods, which were acquired with a ration card, were only nominal, because the supplies were immediately exhausted and they could only be obtained on the black market. The statistics do not reflect this shortage of regulated staple foods. Nor do they reflect the prices on the black market, which only responded to the law of demand. Anxiety, hunger, waiting for hours in long lines, and the expeditions to the agricultural towns to get supplies of food by means of barter, coercion, looting or robbery became generalized for the entire population of Barcelona after the spring of 1937.
Beginning in February 1938, the provisioning of the city would be militarized; this militarization would be complete by August 1938, when three categories of rationing would be established: combatants, armed rearguard and civil population. The Stalinists and the bourgeoisie tried to defeat the revolutionaries by means of hunger.
Can you provide some names of those who have falsified our history?
Miquel Mir, of the junkyard school of history. Rather than a historian, he is a novelist and a deceiver who invents, manipulates and modifies documents. He is financed by the Cercle Eqüestre, a Catalan aristocratic association with profoundly Francoist convictions. His attempt to defame the anarchists failed and discredited the Catalan upper bourgeoisie, whose ancestors were so frightened by the anarchists in 1936. Pío Moa, César Alcala and others of the same ilk, from the neo-Francoist school.
They repeat the usual fallacies of the Francoists and the extreme right, for the purpose of justifying and praising the bloody massacres under the Dictatorship of the Galician Franco: Martín Ramos and a long etcetera of the neo-Stalinist school. They dominated most of the Catalan universities for many years. They dogmatically denied that a social revolution took place in Barcelona in 1936, going so far as to refuse to recognize it as a school of historiography. Today they reject the notorious name of Stalinists and prefer to consider themselves to be social democrats. They hate the anarchists and are the main proponents of the black legend of Catalan anarchism, whose adepts are depicted as bloodthirsty vampires … originated and propagated by the saintly founders of the PSUC and their predecessors (Max Rieger, Ehrenburg, Stepanov, Perucho) whose purpose was to transform advertising partners into forgers of reality, at the same time that they unleashed the repression against the CNT in the summer of 1937, which would cause the CNT to disappear in many areas and would fill the prisons with thousands of libertarian prisoners. They claim to be objective and scientific, but they are fiercely sectarian and the most effective defenders of the obsolete capitalist system and the corrupt democratic bourgeoisie. Their works are published in the journal L’Avenç (and by the publisher of the same name) and in El Viejo Topo. This list of university figures would omit a handful of notable exceptions: Izard, Muniesa, Pagès … and a few others.
From the neo-liberal school, there are prestigious historians like Viñas, or Catalans marginalized by their neo-Stalinist colleagues, like Ucelay Da Cal. They are more intelligent and less compromised than the neo-Francoists, and less dogmatic than the neo-Stalinists. They are destined to succeed and replace them, if only as a result of the generational decline of the now obsolete divide between Francoists and anti-Francoists.
One of the alternatives to collaborating with the Generalitat was the “Go for Everything” strategy, as it was called by García Oliver, which he defined as an anarchist dictatorship. Regarding this “Go for Everything” strategy; was it not a possible option for the revolution? Could it have put an end to the power of the ruling bourgeoisie?
At the CNT-FAI headquarters, which occupied the two buildings confiscated from the Employers Association and the Casa Cambó, the proposal of Companys that the CNT should participate in a Central Committee of Anti-fascist Militias was submitted for the formal approval of a Regional Plenum of Trade Unions, convoked by the Regional Committee of Catalonia.
After the introductory report read by Marianet, José Xena, representing the district of Baix Llobregat, proposed the withdrawal of the CNT delegates from the CCMA and a commitment to carry on with the revolution and establish libertarian communism. Juan García Oliver stood up following the debate and characterized the decision that had to be made as a choice between an “absurd” anarchist dictatorship and collaboration with the other anti-fascist forces in the Central Committee of Militias in order to continue the struggle against fascism.
In this way García Oliver, whether deliberately or not, rendered the confused and ambiguous choice of “Go for Everything” unviable. As opposed to an intransigent “anarchist dictatorship”, the defense presented by Federica Montseny of the principles of anarchism against all dictatorships would appear to be more logical, balanced and reasonable, reinforced by Abad de Santillán’s arguments about the perils of isolation and foreign intervention. A third position would emerge, advocated by Manuel Escorza, who proposed that the government of the Generalitat be used as an instrument of socialization and collectivization, which would then be dismantled when it ceased to be of use to the CNT.
The Plenum proved to be in favor of the collaboration of the CNT with the other anti-fascist forces on the Central Committee of Militias, and voted against the proposal of the representative from Baix Llobregat. The majority of those who attended the Plenum, including Durruti and Ortiz, remained silent, because they thought, like so many others, that the revolution had to be postponed until the problem of Saragossa was resolved, and fascism was defeated. A resolution was passed, without any more debate or philosophizing, to consolidate and institutionalize the Liaison Committee between the CNT and the Generalitat, which had been formed before July 19, and transform it, reinforce it and expand it into the CCMA which, by means of the anti-fascist unity of all its component parties and trade unions, would be responsible for imposing order on the rearguard and organizing and supplying the militias that had to fight the fascists in Aragon.
The authentically revolutionary alternative was not the “Go for Everything” of García Oliver, which was nothing but the seizure of power by a minority of anarchosyndicalist leaders, but the revolutionary committees that were in the streets, expropriating the factories, recruiting and equipping the militiamen, manning the barricades, running the city’s services, forming security patrols … and, in a word, replacing all the state functions and exercising all power, in practice.
Who is the revolutionary figure of 1936 for whom you hold the highest esteem? And why?
The revolutionary committees of the Barcelona neighborhoods, because they were the potential organs of power of the working class.
Can there be a revolution without violence?
For revolutionaries, the great lesson of the revolution of 1936 is the unavoidable necessity of destroying the state. Violence is not a question of will or ethics, but of the relation of forces between the classes in struggle.
Law and order can only be understood as institutionalized violence. Law and order is opposed to and confronted by revolutionary violence. The state defends the institutions of bourgeois society and possesses the monopoly of violence, which it exercises by way of the so-called forces of law and order, and this state of affairs appears to be the “normal condition” of capitalist society. Revolutionary violence, which shatters this monopoly, is presented as an exceptional, chaotic, arbitrary and abnormal phenomenon, that is, as an alteration of bourgeois law and order, and therefore as criminality.
The military uprising made it clear that violence was the solution to social and political conflicts. In a war conflicts are resolved by killing the enemy. The exceptional situation of institutional crisis and social revolution, provoked by the military uprising and the civil war, proved to be a fertile terrain for the multiplication of revolutionaries, slandered as “incontrolados”, who would execute justice on their own account.
In a situation characterized by the collapse of all institutions and a power vacuum, the revolutionary committees, and also some specialized investigative committees, would assume the job of judging and executing fascist enemies, and trying all those suspected of being enemies, priests, landowners, rightists, rich or disaffected. And the weapons they held in their hands were used to exercise this power and to carry out the “duty” of exterminating the enemy. Because it was time to deliver the death blow to fascism, and there was no alternative but to kill or be killed, because they were at war with the fascists. If no one ever blames a soldier for killing an enemy, why would anyone be blamed for killing an enemy by ambushing him in the rearguard? In a war, the enemy is killed for being an enemy: there is no other law, or any other kind of moral rule, or philosophy.
After the passage of many years, learned academics elaborate complicated elucidations and theories in explanation, but all the historical documents on the subject indicate that the militia was never “passive” when faced with a priest, an employer or a fascist, it applied a very simple rule: in a war, the enemy kills you, or you kill the enemy. Everyone from Federica Montseny, the Minister of Health, to Pasqual Fresquet, Captain of the Death Brigade; from Vidiella of the PSUC, Minister of Justice, to the PSUC group leader Àfrica de les Heras; from Joan Pau Fàbregas of the CNT, Minister of the Economy, to the most humble militiaman or member of the control patrols, all, absolutely all of them, argue with exactly the same reasoning.
Are violence and revolution inseparable?
Violence and power are the same thing. In eras of revolutionary violence, as long as there is more destruction (of the old order) than construction (of the new order), the revolutionaries cannot rule, and always encounter their executioners, anonymous or not. From the French Revolution to all the others. But when this violence, which emerged in connection with the revolutionary situation of July, and an atomized power, began to be subjected to regulation in October 1936 (in its new character as legitimate and/or legal violence of the “new” public order) by the new anti-fascist authorities, it ceased to be revolutionary, collective, popular, just, festive and spontaneous violence, because it was then transformed into a cruel phenomenon, alien and incomprehensible to the new counterrevolutionary, bourgeois, republican, centralized and monopolist order, which was established precisely for the purpose of controlling and extirpating the previous revolutionary situation.
Federica Montseny, at the rally in the Olympic stadium on July 21, 1937, would denounce the judicial harassment of CNT members, who were undergoing vicious persecution for the revolutionary events of July, because they did not consider it a crime or murder to have killed priests, military personnel, gunmen or rightists, solely because they were priests, etc. And this criterion was shared by the immense majority of anarchosyndicalists. In September, when this persecution would also affect the militants of the UGT, Vidiella (PSUC) would use arguments similar to those of Montseny.
What lessons can be learned from the experiences of the anarchosyndicalists and from the Revolution of ’36?
During the Civil War, the political project of statist anarchism, which constituted itself as an anti-fascist party, utilizing methods of class collaboration and government participation, bureaucratically organizing for the principal goal of winning the war against fascism, would fail miserably on every terrain; but the social movement of revolutionary anarchism, organized in revolutionary neighborhood committees, local committees, committees for workers control, defense committees, etc., would constitute the embryo of a workers power that would carry out feats of economic management, popular revolutionary initiative and proletarian autonomy that even today illuminate and anticipate a future that is radically different from capitalist barbarism, fascist horror or Stalinist slavery.
Even though this revolutionary anarchism, however, would finally fall victim to the systematic and coordinated repression directed at it by the state, the Stalinists and the superior committees, we have been bequeathed the example and the struggle of minorities, such as the Friends of Durruti, the Libertarian Youth and various anarchist groups in the Local Federation of Barcelona, whose examples allow us to engage in theoretical reflection on their experiences, learn from their errors and keep their struggle and their history alive. After the victorious insurrection of the workers and the defeat of the army, and after the forces of law and order refused to leave their barracks, the destruction of the state ceased to be an abstract futuristic utopia
The destruction of the state by revolutionary committees was a very real and concrete task, in which these committees assumed all the roles that the state had exercised prior to July 1936.
Have you censored yourself or been censored?
Never. I prefer not to publish if subjected to censorship of any kind.
Tell us about the books you have published and intend to publish in the future.
Barricades in Barcelona is an attempt to explain how the ideology of anti-fascist unity was based on the abandonment by the superior committees of any revolutionary program, in the name of winning the war against fascism. This book was also published in a French edition. The CNT Defense Committees in Barcelona (1933-1938) is an introduction to the topic of the war and the revolution in Catalonia from the perspective of these clandestine institutions of a revolutionary army, which is what the defense committees became. This book has been published in an Italian edition.
The Revolution of the Committees (July-December 1936) is the first volume of a trilogy that will be followed by The War for Bread (December 1936-May 1937) and The Repression of the CNT (May-September 1937). These three books share a common subtitle: Hunger and Violence in Revolutionary Barcelona: From July to December 1936). The second and third volumes of the trilogy are awaiting publication. Each of these books may be read independently of the others, but it is obvious that they form part of the same work on the Spanish Revolution, in Catalonia, which allows the participants to speak for themselves, it is full of previously unpublished documents and basically addresses hunger and revolutionary violence, revealing and shedding light on how the Stalinists and the government of the Generalitat would defeat the revolutionaries by means of hunger and the restoration of the monopoly over violence in the Barcelona rearguard.
You are the director, historian, editor and distributor of the history journal, Balance. Could you provide us with a balance sheet for Balance?
Balance has been published since 1993. It is an attempt to rehabilitate “the damned” of the Civil War, who have on so many occasions been rejected, “forgotten”, “sanctified” or slandered by their own organizations and more generally by the bourgeois “sacred history”: Josep Rebull (left wing POUMista), the Friends of Durruti, Munis, Fosco, Mary Low, Benjamin Péret, Balius, Orwell, Nin, etc. It also deals with the Stalinist murderers: Gero (Pere), Stepanov, and their Spanish fellow travelers. Various issues of the journal, such as the one dedicated to the Friends of Durruti and others, have been translated and published in English, French, Italian, etc. Many of these articles can be consulted at the website of “La Bataille Socialiste”: http://bataillesocialiste.wordpress.
Where can your books and the journal, Balance, be purchased?
At the Barcelona bookstores Aldarull (Torrent de l’Olla, 72) and La Rosa de Foc (Joaquín Costa 34). In Madrid at La Malatesta (Jesús y Maria 24). On the internet, at the website: http://www.lamalatesta.net/product.
Tell us about your column in Catalunya, the “Militant’s Dictionary”, which can be found on the back of every issue.
It is an attempt to publicize the history of the workers, and the biographies of its militants, as well as the basic concepts of the workers movement: Seguí, Ascaso, direct action, the lockout, the unitary trade union, Stalinism, capitalism….
You are also an active member of l’Ateneu Enciclopèdic; what do you do in that group?
Archive, catalogue and classify old papers, like those of Abel Paz and others.
What is your assessment of the current state of the workers movement?
Struggle or death. Revolution or barbarism. The proletariat is not just the industrial working class, it is not just the active working population, it includes not only all the wage earners, but also the unemployed, the temporary workers, the retirees, and everyone who does not have reserves on which they can survive. At the present time we are witnessing a merciless attack by capital and the state on the living conditions of the proletariat. This attack can only be answered by class struggle. Without this struggle the proletariat will have no more perspective than the sixty million killed by the Second World War and the destruction of the greater part of world industry.
What is your opinion of today’s libertarian movement?
Amidst a hard reality, in these hopeless and drab times, we can feel the grass growing. The social, political and economic situation of this country, and not just this country, is explosive. The system has no solution to the crisis. There is no future for anyone. The only way out, the only realistic option, is struggle, either to destroy the state, which is the guarantor of the system’s perpetuation, or to dispute with capital and/or the state over wages and welfare, in which only a pitiless struggle can succeed.
What do you think of the divisions within anarchosyndicalism and the libertarian movement?
They should have the ability to act in unison, based on diversity and mutual respect, and emphasize what they have in common rather than what separates them. They should go forward together, strike in unison, build a house where they can all live together.
You are most sympathetic to the Friends of Durruti, the CNT members who were critical of the collaboration of the leaders of the CNT. What can we learn today from their ideas and their practice?
While the superior committees were meeting to subordinate everything to victory in the war against fascism, the neighborhood committees, in the streets, were still fighting for the program of a workers revolution.
The process of institutionalization initiated by those superior committees of the CNT-FAI would transform them into servants of the state, the worst enemies of which were the revolutionary neighborhood committees, as the Regional Committee would define them at the meeting of the superior committees of the libertarian movement held on November 25, 1936
The institutionalization of the CNT would inevitably have important consequences for its organizational and ideological character. The entry of the most well-known militants into various levels of the state administration, from city councils to cabinet ministers of the republican government, and ministers of the Generalitat or new “revolutionary” institutions, would create new functions and needs that would have to be addressed by a limited number of militants in order to carry out the responsibilities of the posts to which they were appointed.
The functions of direction and power exercised by these superior committees would create a set of interests, methods and goals that were different from those of the confederal rank and file militants. This resulted in generalized demobilization and disillusionment among the affiliated organizations and rank and file militants, who were facing hunger and repression. It also led to the emergence of a revolutionary opposition, basically embodied in the Friends of Durruti, the Libertarian Youth of Catalonia, some anarchist groups from the Local Federation of the Affinity Groups of Barcelona, especially after May 1937, an opposition which had, however, already developed, in the summer of 1936, in the neighborhood and defense committees of the residential areas of Barcelona.
A new phenomenon would arise, closely watched and of great concern—the appearance, already in July 1936, of a Committee of Committees, a kind of highly concentrated executive committee composed of well-known leaders which, given the importance and urgency of the problems that had to be resolved, problems that could not possibly be addressed by way of slow horizontal and assembly-based processes and their long debates, replaced the organization with regard to decision-making.
This Committee of Committees, which the superior committees would convene in secret sessions, was publicly consolidated, in June 1937, under the name of the Political Advisory Commission (PAC), and one month later in the so-called Executive Committee of the Libertarian Movement. As a result, a clear dividing line was drawn between state anarchism and revolutionary anarchism.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Existence precedes consciousness. Without theoretical reflection on the historical experiences of the proletariat, there can be no revolutionary theory or theoretical progress. There could be a time lag between theory and practice, of greater or lesser duration, in which the arms of critique are transformed into the criticism of arms. When a revolutionary movement makes its appearance in history it makes a clean break with all dead theories, and the long-awaited moment for revolutionary action arrives, which alone is worth more than any theoretical text, because it reveals the errors and insufficiencies of theory. This practical experience, lived collectively, levels useless barriers and transcends their clumsy limitations, which had been established during the long counterrevolutionary periods. Revolutionary theories prove their validity in the historical laboratory.
Class frontiers excavate a deep chasm between revolutionaries and reformists, between anti-capitalists and the defenders of capitalism. Those who wave the flag of nationalism, sentence the proletariat to disappearance or defend the eternal nature of Capital and the State are on the other side of the barricades, whether they call themselves anarchists or Marxists. The choice must be faced by revolutionaries, who seek to abolish all borders, tear down all flags, dissolve all armies and police forces, destroy all states; either make a clean break with every kind of totalitarianism and messianism by self-emancipatory and assembly-based practices, put an end to wage labor, surplus value and the exploitation of man throughout the entire world; put a stop to the threat of nuclear annihilation, defend natural resources for future generations … or become preservers of the established order, guardians and spokespersons for its owners, and defend capitalism and make excuses for it.
The proletariat is summoned to the class struggle by its own nature as a wage earning and exploited class, without any need for any kind of teaching; it engages in the struggle because it needs to survive. When the proletariat is constituted as a conscious revolutionary class, confronting the party of capital, it needs to assimilate the experiences of the class struggle, it must look for support in its historic conquests, both theoretical and practical, and overcome its inevitable mistakes, critically correct the errors it does make, reinforce its political positions by means of reflection on its shortcomings or omissions, and complete its program, in short, resolve the problems that were not resolved previously.
It is necessary to learn the lessons that history itself has provided. And this learning process can only take place in the practice of the class struggle of the different revolutionary affinity groups and the various organizations of the proletariat.
Could you suggest someone for us to interview?
Interview with Agustín Guillamón conducted by Txema Bofill. First published in Catalunya: Òrgan d’expressió de la CGT de Catalunya, No. 149 (April 2013).
Translated from the Catalan original in May 2013.
Catalan original available online (as of May 2013) at: http://www.cgtcatalunya.cat/spip.php?article8992
The latest Global Uprisings film chronicles a year of resistance and repression that has left Turkey profoundly divided in the wake of the Gezi uprising.
Political struggles over the future of Turkey have left the country profoundly divided. Former Prime Minister, now President, Tayyip Erdogan, has fueled growing polarization through his authoritarian response to protests, his large-scale urban development projects, his religious social conservatism, and most recently, through his complicity in the Islamic State’s war against the Kurdish people in Northern Syria.
In the year after the Gezi uprising, protests continue against the government’s urban redevelopment plans, against police repression, in response to repression of the Kurdish and Alevi populations, and in honor of the martyrs that lost their lives in the uprising. Most recently, angry protests and riots have spread across the country in solidarity with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units fighting against the Islamic State in Kobanê, Rojava. This film chronicles a year of uprisings, resistance and repression since the Gezi uprising in Turkey.
Were found dead in their cells in maximum security block prison Stemmheim Stuttgart on the night of 18 October 1977, the official version of suicide was shot down by the Irmgard Moller, who was found stabbed four times in the chest but survived and denounced the German government for the murder of her partners.
Burial of RAF Members Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe, 1977.
The origins of the group can be traced back to the student protest movement in West Germany. Industrialised nations in the late 1960s experienced social upheavals related to the maturing of the “baby boomers“, to the Cold War, and the end of colonialism. Newly found youth identity and issues such as racism, women’s liberation and anti-imperialism were at the forefront of left-wing politics.
Many young people were alienated from both their parents and the institutions of state. The historical legacy of Nazism drove a wedge between the generations and increased suspicion of authoritarian structures in society (some analysts see the same occurring in post-fascism Italy, giving rise to “Brigate Rosse“).
In West Germany there was anger among leftist youth at the post-war denazification in West and East Germany, which was perceived as a failure or as ineffective, as former (actual and supposed) Nazis held positions in government and economy. The Communist Party of Germany had been outlawed since 1956. Elected and unelected government positions down to the local level were often occupied by ex-Nazis. Konrad Adenauer, the first Federal Republic chancellor (in office 1949–1963), had even appointed the former Nazi-sympathiser Hans Globke as Director of the Federal Chancellery of West Germany (in office 1953–1963).
The radicals regarded the conservative media as biased – at the time conservatives such as Axel Springer, who was implacably opposed to student radicalism, owned and controlled the conservative media including all of the most influential mass-circulation tabloid newspapers. 1966 saw the emergence of the Grand Coalition between the two main parties, the SPD and CDU, with former Nazi Party member Kurt Georg Kiesinger as chancellor. This horrified many on the left and was viewed as monolithic, political marriage of convenience with pro-NATO, pro-capitalist collusion on the part of the social democratic SPD. With ninety-five percent of the Bundestag controlled by the coalition, an Extra-Parliamentary Opposition (APO) was formed with the intent of generating protest and political activity outside of government. In 1972 a law was passed, the Radikalenerlass, which banned radicals or those with a ‘questionable’ political persuasion from public sector jobs.
Some radicals used the supposed association of large parts of society with Nazism as an argument against any peaceful approaches:
They’ll kill us all. You know what kind of pigs we’re up against. This is the Auschwitz generation. You can’t argue with people who made Auschwitz. They have weapons and we haven’t. We must arm ourselves!
The Red Army Faction, A Documentary History: Volume 2: Dancing with Imperialism
Edited by J. Smith and André Moncourt
Introduction by Ward Churchill
Published by Kersplebedeb and PM Press
Pub Date June 2013
Page Count: 480 pages
Size: 6 by 9
The long-awaited Volume 2 of the first-ever English-language documentary history of the Red Army Faction—West Germany’s most notorious urban guerillas—covers the period immediately following the organization’s near-total decimation in 1977.
This work includes the details of the guerilla’s operations, and its communiqués and texts, from 1978 up until the 1984 offensive. This was a period of regrouping and reorientation for the RAF, with its previous focus on freeing its prisoners replaced by an anti-NATO orientation. This was in response to the emergence of a new radical youth movement in the Federal Republic, the Autonomen, and an attempt to renew its ties to the radical left. The possibilities and perils of an armed underground organization relating to the broader movement are examined, and the RAF’s approach is contrasted to the more fluid and flexible practice of the Revolutionary Cells. At the same time, the history of the 2nd of June Movement (2JM), an eclectic guerilla group with its roots in West Berlin, is also evaluated, especially in light of the split that led to some 2JM members officially disbanding the organization and rallying to the RAF. Finally, the RAF’s relationship to the East German Stasi is examined, as is the abortive attempt by West Germany’s liberal intelligentsia to defuse the armed struggle during Gerhard Baum’s tenure as Minister of the Interior.
Dancing with Imperialism will be required reading for students of the First World guerilla, those with interest in the history of European protest movements, and all who wish to understand the challenges of revolutionary struggle.
The documents by the Red Army Faction in Dancing with Imperialism are also available on this website, which is maintained by the books editors:
Following the arrests in ’72 and the Stockholm action, the social democratic state hoped for a realignment that would put an end to the guerilla’s complete negation of the capitalist system and the rupture it represents. The guerilla was to remain an incident involving a couple of guys, historically connected to the situation around the Vietnam War, and perhaps to a critique of the old sterile antifascism—as if it was intended to be the latest form of treason—to prevent the possibility of revolutionary struggle here from serving as a reference point. In ’76, we had arrived at the goal of deepening the guerilla project and further developing an understanding of the rupture in the metropole by resuming the struggle—setting the revolutionary process in motion and making the rupture irreversible. The goal of restructuring the guerilla in ’77 was connected to the prisoners’ struggle.
The ongoing social democracy was an external condition under which we struggled in the ’70s; against the strategy of the SPD, which had broken the back of proletarian revolution many times since 1914—which had disarmed the working class in the face of fascism—which after ’45, guided by U.S. capital, was again inserted into the class as a pillar of support for capital—which, as the modern form of imperialist rule, institutionalized all social contradictions, political struggles, and autonomous movements. It was against these political conditions that we carried out the first RAF attacks. These actions were part of a practice that destroyed the “objective unity of the bourgeoisie,” that recreated the conditions for class consciousness, and developed the strategic political-military struggle.
The other condition: after the consolidation of the October Revolution, the national class struggle failed to develop anything that correctly clarified the current conflict between the proletariat and the capitalist system or showed how to overthrow it. Capital had further internationalized itself.
And regarding the different forms of colonization of people in the south and in the metropole, different realities were shaped to separate them socially and politically. So the relationship to oppression in the metropole was stabilized for decades through the internationalization of production, and was politically sealed by social democracy and the unions limiting the labor movement to purely economic struggles. This relative stability was disrupted by the Vietnamese liberation struggle. First of all, because this successful struggle for national self-determination and social development was connected to worldwide change, it created barriers to capital. But more importantly, the Vietnamese liberation struggle changed political conditions. An aspect of this decolonization was that it simultaneously involved confronting U.S. imperialism, and for that reason this war revealed the totality and the unity of the entire imperialist system, for the first time since the consolidation of the October Revolution. That facilitated a break with the long history of revisionism here. Vietnam transformed the worldwide revolutionary process from one of separate national class struggles into an increasingly unified international class struggle, uniting the struggles on all fronts. Since then this has been the context within which all of the struggles confronting the capitalist system occur. They differ only as to the level of the concrete conditions in which and under which they are conducted.
At the beginning of ’77, the question here was whether things could continue to advance or whether they would suffer further reversals. Following the military solution to the guerilla struggle that was used against the commando in Stockholm, all those who chose not to leave were also choosing to not allow the revolutionary strategy to once again be pissed away in the states of the metropole. It was a decision to oppose the Social Democrats’ strategic intent, which was to annihilate the guerilla with depoliticization, rabble-rousing, and repressive normality, using mass control and modern fascism to their full potential. Brandt said that the counterstrategy must redevelop “society’s immune system,” something that social democracy represents more than almost anything else. As such, the most important recommendation the U.S. counterstrategy could offer the SPD was that they bury the Stammheim prisoners as deep as possible. With this goal, the state’s openly liquidationist line determined the speed and intensity with which the guerilla had to reorganize itself and develop its offensive.
The prisoners’ struggle had a political objective of its own. It arose from a contradiction which clarified both the political preconditions for the rupture as well as the depth it could achieve here. At the same time, ’77 was the point where the first phase of the guerilla struggle ended and where the political objective of this phase, the rupture in the metropole, was thereby established.
By taking Schleyer prisoner, we confronted the FRG state with its problem of legitimacy—using this bureaucrat from the Third Reich and its successor state, a state which was entirely shaped from the outside and imposed internally. The action confronted the FRG with this problem of legitimacy—the historical conditions for the overthrow of this system were ripe and its back was to the wall—because the negotiations forced it to acknowledge its adversaries. And the action confronted the federal government with the antifascism that to some degree already existed in Western Europe, and which was not just a historical factor, but was being produced anew as a reaction to the FRG’s new and pervasive claims to power. Schmidt said in parliament, “The hope that memories of Auschwitz and Oradour would begin to fade in countries outside of Germany will not be fulfilled. If a terrorist is shot by us… we will face questions that other nations don’t have to deal with.”
In fact, the old antifascism here collapsed without resistance, because it was propped up by a left that had waited thirty years for Strauß so they could scream about fascism, but have not to this very day caught on to the fact that everything that the CDU tried to do they learned from the SPD. And in Western Europe outside of Germany, it lost its strength to the degree that it oriented itself toward an impending revolution in one country and treated this as typical of Western Europe. This relationship to power consisted of the weakness of the old antifascism at a point when the new antifascism emerging from the anti-imperialist struggle was not yet adequately developed. This allowed the state to achieve its goal of waging war against the enemy within—“civilization or barbarism,” hyper-criminality—and to resolve the situation militarily, in keeping with Schmidt’s imposed dictum, at least during those weeks: society could not be permitted to debate the guerilla’s politics.
Because social democracy has its historical roots in the betrayal of the working class, they are particularly sensitive to the problem of legitimacy faced by the capitalist system. This was illustrated by the conflicts within the Crisis Management Team. The SPD wanted to handle it as a state of emergency, without actually declaring such a thing. Wehner insisted that people stop talking openly about a state crisis. The CDU/CSU was prepared to drop this line—for example, the CSU proposed allowing the prisoners to go free and then declaring a state of emergency to smash the mobilization that the situation had provoked. Or Rebmann’s idea to institute martial law and shoot the imprisoned guerillas. Schmidt relied on the effectiveness not of traditional fascism, but of the institutional variety. He too wanted to use the prisoners as hostages, but legally, with the Contact Ban law. He too wanted a military solution, but with the police waging the war, accompanied by the construction of the necessary ideological superstructure. The goal was the same. As a result, everything was focused on the prisoners, because they couldn’t get at the commando.
With ’77, the form and the content of the FRG state became one and the same. Its political content: a post-Nazi state and an anticommunist bulwark within the NATO structure. Its form: the dictatorial heart of NATO democracy, the national security state, the state that exterminates people to protect them from themselves. Given its raw unmediated structure, right from the beginning it was obvious that in the FRG proletarian politics would require autonomous struggle, which is to say, illegally organized armed struggle. However, it was not just the old structures and forms that had been renewed, but fascism itself. The SPD had already proceeded so far with its process of institutionalization that the officially declared state of emergency had been made redundant. Just as in Stammheim in ’75, it wasn’t presented as an issue of high treason, because that charge contained too much political substance. In ’74, Brandt said, “Since the Social-Liberal Coalition has been in power, basic precautions have been taken to secure the state internally.” Beyond legalizing counterinsurgency, he was referring to the program that party partisan Herold had already envisioned in ’68: fascism in an historical era of automation and data processing, and the institutional penetration of society, so as to paralyze it—fascism that no longer requires mass mobilization or ideologically motivated fascists, but only bureaucrats and technocrats in the service of the imperialist state. In the emergency situation of ’77, its entire potential was mobilized. Behind the fictional separation of powers and parliamentary procedure lies the Maßnahmestaat, the real power structure where police and military bodies control the analysis—given their “privileged access to information” (Herold)—and in so doing shape policy.
These changes were not the result of ’77 alone. They were the result of a process set in motion by the first RAF attacks and the prisoners’ hunger strikes, as well as in response to those who opted to continue the struggle after ’77. In this regard, the actions in the autumn of ’81 were particularly important. Following ’77 and continuing to this very day, there have been attempts to reverse the rupture. Following the neutralization of liberalism and antifascism by the events of ’77, this position is today occupied by a new left that situates itself somewhere between “the guerilla and the state” and attempts to lay its own claim on parliamentary action. However, this left is of no importance. Not only because the political-economic crisis leaves reformism with objectively even less room to maneuver than in the seventies, but also because what is required here is a left that is beyond their reach, that has been politicized to grasp the meaning of ’77, and that can find its bearings in a situation where the state targets any fundamental opposition. This resistance must be grounded in an understanding that reformism here is not limited by the economy but by politics, which must in turn be targeted by revolutionary activity.
International Bridgader passport of Albert Cole, Working Class Movement Library
Communist Deputy Dolores Ibarruri ‘La Pasionaria’, speaking from the Asturias
On 17th July 1936 a group of army officers launched a military coup in an attempt to overthrow the democratic Republican government of Spain. The coup was only partially successful and the country split in half and a bitter civil war ensued.
Internationally, twenty eight countries signed an agreement of non-intervention proposed by France and strongly supported by Britain. However, this agreement was ignored by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany and both countries sent troops and arms in support of Spain’s Nationalist forces, led by General Franco.
Despite this, other governments continued to pursue a policy of non-intervention. So individuals helped, promoted by posters, donating money medical aid and food to help Spanish civilians.
Poster, People’s History Museum
People also volunteered to fight for the Spanish Republic in the International Brigades. Nearly 60,000 people from 55 countries volunteered including more than 2,000 Britons of whom 526 were killed and many more injured.
Each International Brigader was issued with a passport detailing personal and service information. The passport of Albert Cole gives an insight into the checks and service of the volunteers.
International Bridgader passport of Albert Cole, Working Class Movement Library
The entry process for those wanting to join the International Brigaders was tough. After making contact with the local Communist Party branch they would be interviewed for suitability on military and political grounds (though only one was necessary to be granted entry).
Admitted, they would travel to London’s Victoria station and purchase a weekend rail ticket to Paris. This journey did not require a passport and was legal, though this didn’t stop British Special Branch reportedly trying to dissuade volunteers from travelling,
“Victoria Station was as thick as flies on ground with special agent men and detectives, you could tell by their huge boots…But they could do nothing about it.”
Commemorative Plate, People’s History Museum
In Paris they were met by a Communist Party representative, underwent Medical Examination and further political reliability checks before journeying to Spain. After the 1937 non-intervention treaty this journey had to be done secretly, so groups were smuggled over the Pyrenees on foot in a climb that could last 16 hours. Over the border, they would get a lorry then a train to the International Brigade headquarters in Albacete where they were divided into their Brigades, underwent training and finally were ready to join the fight. The majority of International Brigaders were sent to the front line.
Photograph, six members of British Batallion, Working Class Movement Library
Cole, however, was different. Cole joined the International Brigaders on 3rd Devember 1936. Before joining he presumably passed both the political and professional checks as his passport states his political party as anti fascist and his profession as seaman. It seems that rather send him as an infantryman to the front line initially Cole’s profession was put to use and he was given naval duties. These included protecting vessels bringing supplies from the Soviet Union to support the Republicans during their last few miles to port.
At some point he returned to Liverpool and spoke at propaganda meetings. It was when he went back to Spain that he took up a role with the infantry and on 6th June 1938 he was sent to the 129th International Brigade on the front line.
Interestingly, foreign brigades were divided by nationality and British volunteers were predominantly sent to the 15th Brigade. Cole’s passport does not explain why he was not sent to the 15th, but perhaps it is due to his late entry to the front line.
International Brigader passport of Albert Cole, Working Class Movement Library
This front line service did not last long, however. Just one month later he was wounded and on 18th July 1938 was admitted to hospital with concussion. On 6th December 1938 his passport was stamped with his discharge authorisation.
International Brigader passport of Albert Cole, Working Class Movement Library
International Brigader passport of Albert Cole, Working Class Movement Library
The Spanish Civil War ended shortly after his discharge. In the first few months of 1939 Nationalist forces overwhelmed the remaining Republican forces and finally took Madrid, ending the war. In the aftermath thousands of Republicans were executed or imprisoned and General Franco remained in power until his death in 1975. Within a few years of his death, however, Spain transformed itself into a modern Democracy, surviving Republican exiles returned and a Socialist government was again elected in 1982.
Interested in some further reading? Here’s just a few of the books at the Working Class Movement Library
Ulrike Meinhof (7. October 1934. – 9. May 1976.) was radical left-wing journalist previously worked as a journalist for the monthly left-wing magazine konkret. She was one of the founders of the RAF.
The teenaged Ulrike had a talent for writing and a strong interest in social and political issues.
“Urlike Meinhof is a historical ridle, en enigmatic women, who like most people, can only be understood within the context of her time. She siezed a historical moment and the possibilities it offered, a moment of the starkest contradictions in postwar Germanys coming to terms its partially suppressed Nazi past, the student movement of 1968, and re-unification, which Ulrike Meinhof did not witness, and could probably not have imagined.”Elfriede Jelinek,
The attempted assassination of student activist Rudi Dutschke on 11. April 1968, provoked Meinhof to write an article in konkret demonstrating her increasingly militant attitude and containing perhaps her best-known quote:
“Protest is when I say this does not please me. Resistance is when I ensure what does not please me occurs no more.”Published in “Vom Protest zum Widerstand” (“From Protest to Resistance”), konkret, no. 5. (May 1968), p. 5.
As the 1960s drew to a close, she was making the acquaintance of people like Baader, who, to her way of thinking, was making the revolution while she was sitting at a typewriter making symbolic waves. With her 1970. involvement in Andreas Baader’s jailbreak, the journalist burned her bridges behind her and became a full-fledged and full-time enemy of the state.
After Baader’s escape, West German police launched a massive hunt for the group that was now known to consist, in part, of Baader, Meinhof, Ensslin, and lawyer Horst Mahler. Then they reversed the usual flight of the Berlin Wall by slipping across it and into Communist East Germany. There the fugitives caught a plane to Beirut, Lebanon. They found their way to a refugee camp along the Lebanese-Israeli border where the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) trained its guerrillas.
In August 1970, the PFLP asked the Germans to not only leave the refugee camp but to depart from Lebanon altogether. The RAF people honored the request and returned to their native West Germany. There they assiduously worked to recruit committed radicals to their cause. About twenty new people joined.
On 14 June 1972, in Langenhagen, Fritz Rodewald, a teacher who had been providing accommodation to deserters from the U.S. Armed Forces, was approached by a stranger asking for an overnighting house the next day for herself and a friend. He agreed but later became suspicious that the woman might be involved with the RAF and eventually decided to call the police. The next day the pair arrived at Rodewald’s dwelling while the police watched. The man was followed to a nearby telephone box and was found to be Gerhard Müller who was armed. After arresting Müller, the police then proceeded to arrest the woman – Ulrike Meinhof.
After two years of preliminary hearings, Meinhof was sentenced to 8 years’ imprisonment on 29 November 1974. Eventually Meinhof, Baader, Ensslin, and Raspe were jointly charged on 19. August 1975, with four counts of murder, fifty-four of attempted murder, and a single count of forming a criminal association. However before the trial was concluded, Meinhof was found hanged by a rope, fashioned from a towel, in her cell in the Stammheim Prison on 9. May 1976.
It is tragic destiny of intelectual and journalist, activist and uncompromising antifascist. She wrote texts about outsiders( she especially concerned about institutionalized children).She worned about American oil interests in Third countries, in Iran particulary, then in Syria, Lybia, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. She wrote about Israely state and lack of understanding in Europian Left question of Jews and founding of the state of Israel as a result of British colonial policies and National Socialist persecution of Jews. In text (“Three friends of Israel”,1967.)
Quotes from Ulrike Meinhof :
“We understand connections between consumer-terror and police terror, and why German capital has an interest in the exploatation of the Persian people. But we have hardly even begun to see the conections between the profits sought by German capital and the opression of women and children.”(“Everybody talks about the weather”,1969.)
“Why do women laborers and the white-collar workers who are affected by the increasing mechanization of offices not resist if their situation is so inhuman and so obviously un-egalitarian? Where are the protests-if not by deadened and worn-out workers, then by the unions and prehaps the educated and informed women. Where are the actions of solidarity?”
“Housekeeping means isolation: “The decisions about the meat you don’t have are not made in the kitchen”(False consciousness, 1968.)
“Terror from the Left…but on a supra-provincial scale is no more human than terror from the Right.”(“Counter-Violence”, 1968.)
The main problem of the court (in Nuremberg) was that in order to convict those responsible for fascists’ ascent, it had to convict capitalism itself.
Fascism was born on March 23 1919 in this building: the seat of the Industrial Alliance in Milan.
Mussolini promised to declare war against socialism, the working class, the small farmers, and stays true to his promise.
The armed squads he controls, called the Blackshirts, are directly financed by manufacturers and landowners. They attack strikes and sit-ins in factories, such as the Alfa Romeo factory.
The same practice will be followed by Hitler’s stormtroopers, this time for the sake of German industry owners.
„As long as profit is ensured, they don’t care who’s in power, but the political power that Hitler offered them meant the total destruction of trade unions.
Fascist armed squads murder trade unionists, hit workers, and destroy the offices of the newspapers of the left.
The police watch from a distance or participate in the assaults, always with the tolerance of the justice system.
Fascism and Nazism offer the paradise that industries and banks dream of in a dictatorship context.
However, democracy did not die at the hands of Hitler and Mussolini. It was clinically dead before they came to power.
In order to legitimize the presence of Hitler and Mussolini the political establishment places them within coalition governments.
The left is presented as the first time as a terrorist group that will bring disaster.
This is a very convenient myth that Hitler will use in order to come to power.
Three years before Hitler came to power, Germany was in a constant state of emergency…
„…It was in a way a presidential dictatorship.”
The state of emergency permits payment, pensions, and allowance cuts.
Strikes are often declared illegal and rallies are restricted.
However, the economic establishment is not satisfied.
One of the myths about Mussolini and Hitler is that they came to power violently and that politicians and businessmen did not have a chance to react.
In reality they broke into open doors.